Excuses change nothing, but make everyone feel better Mason Cooley
Where should the line be drawn between an individual`s own responsibility to take care of herself and society`s responsibility to ensure that others shield her?
What do you think these words could be referring to? What evil does the questioner suggest is lurking out there that society needs to come to grips with so you and I will be safe?
Nuclear war? I agree. A society should place the responsibility on its own shoulders to protect us all from nuclear holocaust. How about serial killers? Another good guess. The FBI spends a lot of time and resources taking responsibility for making sure that you are safe from the Hannibal Lecters of the world. What about an outbreak of bird flu. E. coli, or some other deadly disease? Right again. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has your back covered.
So which of these mortal dangers was the opening quote referring to when it asked where society should step in and make sure that you are okay?
The answer; none. Guess what the culprit was that spawned this quote. I will give you a hint. The quote comes from a ruling by a United States Federal judge. Still wondering?
The perpetrator so dangerous that protection from it may require the collective power of our entire society is a McDonald hamburger.
Just think. It took a judge in United States Federal Court to figure out the answer to that question. Why? Because two girls were overweight and claimed that McDonald`s was responsible for their eating habits. The attorney for the plaintiffs argued that McDonald`s food was physically or psychologically addictive. From that perspective, the poor girls just did not have a chance. The Golden Arches reached out and grabbed them, pulled them in. and force-fed them.
But, common sense and as we shall argue. the created order, prevailed. Part of the judge`s opinion held that if consumers know (or reasonably should know) the potential ill health effects of eating at McDonald`s, they cannot blame McDonald`s if they, nonetheless, choose to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald`s products.
Thank you. Judge, for bringing some sanity to this picture. But it begs a bigger question. How did we get to the place where someone would even think that they could sue a hamburger chain for their weight problem? Was it the permissive sixties that did away with personal responsibility in our culture? Was it humanism that said humanity is basically good and it is our poor environment that causes us to make mistakes? Was it permissive parenting that taught an entire generation to think that nothing is its responsibility nothing had that happens is ever my fault? Was it the psychologists who said that to discipline a child might hurt his self-esteem? Or was it all those hamburgers we ate that made us think this way?
Actually, as much as we like to talk about how far society has gone astray (and there is truth to that), blaming others is not a new problem created by twenty first century America. Though we do seem to have perfected blame as a cultural and legal art form, it is not a modern phenomenon. In fact, it has been part of human nature from the beginning of time.
When God asked Adam the equivalent of Why did you eat the hamburger? in Adam`s case the forbidden fruit Adam quickly blamed his wife: The man said, €˜The woman you put here with me she give me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it` (Genesis 3:12 NIV).
When God asked Eve about the issue, she offloaded responsibility in a similar fashion. Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this you have done?` The woman said, €˜The serpent deceived me, and I ate` (Genesis 3:13 NIV).
All Adam needed was an attorney and he could have sued God. Eve, and the serpent. Or maybe they could have bonded together and filed the first class-action suit. But the truth is that there is a fundamental problem with human nature, as philosophers, psychologists, and theologians have noted for centuries. The problem is simply this: we fail to take responsibility for our own lives.
We shift the blame, and the responsibility, to others. It is just a part of who we are, and it has been that way from day one. We did not learn it from our environment, although our environment can augment it. Instead, we bring it into the world as a tendency that comes with being human.
Now, certainly we have reasons why we do not take ownership for our own behavior and lives. Adam and Eve did it, in part, because they were ashamed and afraid. Those are big reasons for us as well. No one ever said that we blame for no good reason. Even the girls in the McDonald`s lawsuit had struggles and determinants that were making self-control difficult for them. There is no doubt about that. Perhaps they felt ashamed, powerless, or afraid. Anyone who thinks they are going to help an overweight person by just saving, It is your choice. Stop eating, has either never been overweight or has never worked with many overweight people or addicts. External factors do influence our behavior. Even the Bible affirms that.
But, the fact that there are reasons that drive us to do things, and the question of whether we are responsible for what we do with that are two very different matters. The bottom line is this: No matter what reason drives someone to overeat, whether it`s stress, McDonald`s advertising, boredom, lack of education, a bad childhood, or whatever, there is still a reality: if you overeat, you will gain weight. The why you did it, no matter how valid, will not solve the problem. The same thing happens in peoples lives every day. When we succeed in blaming someone for our problems, we still are no closer to a solution for them. Still, we do it anyway to make ourselves feel temporarily better. And when we do, we still have the problems.
It these girls had won their lawsuit, it would have been the worst thing that could have happened to them, for it would have reinforced the belief that someone else was in control of their behavior. Thus, it would have gotten them no closer to solving their weight problem.
It may have helped the girls feel better in some way to have been awarded a big settlement for McDonald`s having made them fat. They might have temporarily gotten over some bad feelings about being overweight. I don`t know them, so I can`t say. But, I can say one thing: they would not have been one step closer to being a normal weight. Not one ounce. Not one fraction. Why? Because they are the only ones who can do anything about the real problem. They are the only ones who can refuse to eat the burgers. They ate the only ones in control of that. And in the end, it is all about control. Who ultimately has it? As we shall see, that is ultimately the only thing that matters.
It Is All About Control
I know a man whose childhood was not the greatest. His mother used him for her own needs and his father did not provide the crucial support to give him confidence to accomplish his dreams. In very real ways, he was shortchanged. Now he works at a job that he doesn`t like and dates a woman who treats him much like his parents did. She uses him and is not supportive.
Every time he thinks about his hated work or his poor relationship, he reacts in a familiar pattern. He gets bugged and complains. None of his problems are his own fault. He complains about how the company doesn`t care about him, and how they use their employees for their own ends. And he complains about how his girlfriend thinks only about herself, and how she always gets her own way. When I asked him about looking for a new job, he said his girlfriend has a lot going on right now, and he spends so much time helping her that there`s little left for job hunting. Plus, he said, they really aren`t hiring in my field right now.
What about another field I asked. What about your interest in computer science that you told me about?
Well, I would have to get another degree, he said.
Yeah, so why don`t you do that? I asked.
Well, you know how schools are with mid-career people. They don`t like to admit students into those adult programs without experience in the field. The ones with the experience are the ones who get the spots, he said.
Thus the conversation continues in an endless circle. Finally I give up. Poor guy. I think to myself He`s stuck in a prison. But the thing about his prison is that he is the one who holds the key, and yet he doesn`t know it. He is the one in control of his life and yet he feels as if everyone else is. He is the only one who can do anything about his problems, and yet he is the one who says he can`t do anything. From his perspective, his troubles are not his fault. If only his girlfriend would become less needy and demanding; or if only his company would care and do more for him; or if only colleges would get more understanding only then would his life ever be different. It is always up to someone else to make it better. And since they don`t, it gets no better.
Now, if you were to ask him, he would not say this outright. But that is, in effect, what he is saying and living out each day. For, if his girlfriend, his employer, and the college are the reasons that things are not better for him, then his only hope of anything ever getting any better is that they change for him. In his mind, they have all the power and control over his life.
The overweight girls had the same attitude. If McDonald`s made me this way, then my only hope is for McDonald`s to do something to make me different. Guess what. Neither McDonald`s, my friend`s girlfriend, his company, or the colleges are holding meetings right now on how they plan to make these people`s lives different. The people themselves are the only ones who can do that.
I have another friend from a similar background. Very little support, encouragement, or help from her family. They hurt her in two ways: first, by the various harmful things that they inflicted on her. And second, by depriving her of the good things she needed. But her reaction was quite different from that of the first friend I mentioned.
Somewhere along the line she learned the difference between what happens to us and what we do with it. She learned that it`s not the bad things that happen to us that determines our destiny; it`s how we respond to them. She learned that no one can have control over your life if you do not let them. In short, she learned that she owns` her life, not someone else. And it is the owner who has the rights.
She learned that if her family did not provide the support and validation she needed, she was free to find it from other people. And she did. She joined a spiritual community that loved her and supported her. From that base, she grew to be emotionally strong. Although her parents inflicted lots of emotional pain on her, she learned that she was free to find help in dealing with that pain, to learn new patterns of relating, and to get well. So she diligently went to sustained therapy, joined support groups, and overcame the significant pain in her life. Today she is very healthy.
Although this woman`s parents did not support her intellectual pursuits in any form, including financially, she learned that she could make her own choices and take responsibility for those interests herself. So she got jobs, paid for school, and eventually achieved a graduate degree and became a professional in a high-paying field.
This woman also learned that no matter how hurtful one`s relationships may be early life, in your adult life you can choose relationships with people who will not be hurtful. She chose to marry a good, honest, and responsible man.
Even though God did not instantly deliver this woman from suffering the very moment she prayed, either in childhood or beyond, she learned that she did not have to choose to believe that he is not there or does not care just because healing is not instantaneous. Instead, she chose to believe what he says about our living in a world where people have freedom and choices, and sometimes they use that freedom to hurt us. She understood that he is not to blame for that. As a result, she kept alive a faith that led her to many experiences of his intervention, healing, and deliverance. She did not become bitter toward God or, like the Israelites facing the difficulties of the desert, give up her faith anti abandon God. Instead, she became one of those who followed him through the desert to the Promised Land.
And, in what I think is her greatest achievement, this woman learned that although your own parents might not give you what you need in life, you do not have to continue that pattern and pass it to another generation. Instead, she gave her children great parenting, and they grew up to be healthy, responsible people.
Her life did not belong to her circumstances, her parents, her lack of resources, or her lack of options. Her life belonged to her. It was a gift from God. And she was not going to allow what had happened to her be in charge of the rest of her life. Just because how she was treated was someone else`s fault, which it was, she did not wait for someone else to make it better. She owned her life. Even if she didn`t cause the problems, she was proactive about solving them. She was in charge of what went on from that point forward. That was the difference between my two friends. One was a perpetual victim, and the other was a victorious person.
What Is A Person?
In the beginning, the Bible tells us, God created people in his image (Genesis 1:27). This means a lot of things, but one thing stands out as it relates to our present subject: the ability to choose what one wants to be. This ability to choose is what is referred to as will. Literally, the term will means desire. But for humans created in God`s image, it means much more than that. The animals have desire, or appetite. But only humans have the ability not merely to desire things, but also the creative will to take responsibility for that desire and bring about the achievement of it. That creative ability resides in the nature of God, and he has passed it on to us. Your dog is pretty much going to live where you decide he will live. But you, being human rather than canine, have a creative choice. God has delegated two things to you:
The ability to create and respond to life
The reality consequences of those choices
Often you cannot choose what happens to you. You cannot determine which cards you are dealt. But you can always do something:
You can always create, seek, and find a range of options to determine how you will respond to what happens, and how you will play the card in your hand.
Adam did not choose how many trees were given to him in the garden. But, he did choose which to eat from. The girls in the lawsuit did not choose for McDonald`s to make and advertise food that could make them gain weight. But, they did choose how they would respond to that advertising. My first friend did not choose parents who taught him what non-supportive relationships were like. But he did choose to find a girlfriend who was like them. Furthermore, he chose to allow her non-support and self-centeredness to control his life. He also chose to stay it: the state that his family left him in rather than make an attempt to grow out of it. It was easier to blame than to change. As a result, he was choosing his life, one sentence of blame at a time.
We do not always like the enormous freedom to choose that we actually possess. It frightens us. It makes us responsible. But it is a reality. That freedom to choose is the element that explains the difference between my two friends. Both were from difficult backgrounds and faced difficult obstacles. But the way each chose to respond to those circumstances was very different. And their different choices created very different outcomes.
Each of us faces difficult circumstances in life. God grants each of its talents, brains and abilities with which to meet them. And then he gives us the choice as to how we will respond. He gives us enormous freedom and responsibility. Listen to how this delegation of responsibility is described from the beginning:
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beast of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2:19 NIV)
God did not name the animals for Adam. What he did do was give Adam the creative ability to come up with options and name them. Had my first friend been the one in the garden, he might have said, That`s just like God. Isn`t it? Tells me to name all these creatures but doesn`t even provide me with a list of possible names. How am I supposed to do this? He`s so non supportive. Maybe I`ll sue him for a non-supportive work environment lack of training, and poor employee assistance.
That is very much like what the later in the responsibility lottery said in the parable at the talents. Remember the story? The master gives three people different amounts of resources to invest. The first two make their investments and get nice returns. The master rewards them with more resources. But the third was like my first friend. He blamed the master for not giving him what he thought he needed to make it work, so he did nothing with what had been entrusted to him. Listen to his words:
Then the man who had received the one talent came. Master, he said. €˜I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in. the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.
His master replied. You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:24-30 NIV)
Notice something. God did not say, What are you talking about? I have not been mean to you! I have given you everything you needed to be successful with your talent! Nor did he say, Gosh, you are right. It is tough to only have one talent. Here, I will do your work for you. Neither what God had given this man nor what he had not given him was the issue. The issue was just one thing: what had he done with what was given him? How had he used it? How had he responded to the options that were available to him? Had he tried his best and failed, he would not have been graded on the failure. He was graded simply on whether or not he had acted responsibly with what had been dealt to him.
When the man made excuses, accusing God of harshness to the point of expecting too much of a person, God could have said, No, I am not harsh. I do not ask for a return where I have not given anything. Didn`t I start you out with a talent? But he didn`t say this because the issue was deeper than whether or not the servant had a good excuse, in fact, God`s answer to the man recognized that his excuses may have been real! But they didn`t matter. He said that even it those things were true, the man still should have at least done something! At the very least he should have taken responsibility and put the money to some kind of use, in other words, there is no excuse.
Perhaps our excuses may somewhat define and describe our options, but they do not do away with our responsibility. We still have the freedom to respond to whatever comes our way, whether we get tons of talents or only one.
All of us have certain areas of our life in which we only get one talent. And those are the areas where we will be most afraid to make a positive choice. But God has designed the universe in such a way that he expects us to use the freedom he has given us to take responsibility for our situation, find the possible options, and respond to them.
And the results of our choices will simply be what they are. He does not always shield us from bad results, although at times he may. Most of the time, he allows us to reap the rewards of our choices, whether positive or negative. He will not smile indulgently at our foolish choices and think he is responsible for bailing us out. In fact, that was part of` the devil`s temptation of Jesus. Satan told Jesus to just jump off the high precipice, and not to worry, because God would save him. He even used a Bible quote to back up his temptation. But Jesus came back with a very firm reinforcement of the principle of responsibility. It says: €˜Do not put the Lord your God to the test` (Luke 4:12 1.4KV). It is not an act of faith to fail to take responsibility for our lives and then think that God is somehow responsible for the outcome.
It began with God giving Adam and Eve a Paradise along with the abilities to rule it, and then holding them responsible for what happened. That was simply the created order of things. And that created order still remains, although now it`s marred and mixed up by sin. God gives us a life and various degrees of resources to manage it and cope with it. Sometimes he allows bad things to happen and offers us help and other ways out of, or through, the difficulty. But even when he helps us and gives us resources, he still requires responsibility from us to live our lives by making responsible choices, and the results will always testify to how well we make those choices.
This is not just some brand of theoretical theology. If you don`t believe me, step on the scales and look at reality. McDonald`s or not, the scales don`t lie; our lives weigh-in at what they truly are. Reality is what it is. And much of what ultimately constructs that reality is our choice. Much of it is up to us.
How We Give Away Ownership By Demanding That Life Be Fair and Just.
When we think of the terms just or fair, we are thinking about the way life ought to be. The dictionary defines just as what is right or deserved. When you say, He got his just desserts, you are saying he got what he deserved in the situation. He got justice, and justice is one of the most important concepts in the universe. One of the hallmarks of a spiritual person, according to the Bible, is practicing justice and seeking it for those who are not getting it, especially those unable to seek it for themselves.
But the very reason that God asks us to seek and practice justice is that we live in a world that does not operate justly. The stark reality is that the world as we find it today is not a just or fair place. It does not operate according to the rules of how things ought to be. People often do not get what they deserve, in fact, people often get things they don`t deserve, awful things that hurt them in significant ways. That is the reality we encounter in this world. And part of believing in God and serving him is to right anything we find that is hurting someone, thus dealing with this harsh reality.
People who own their lives own them in reality, not in the fantasy world of the way life ought to be. That means they take ownership of their lives in the world that is, not the world as they wish it were. They own the fact that we live in a world that is neither fair nor just, and they deal with that reality. They do not spend a lot of energy protesting that unfair reality, demanding that the world be different. They deal with their world as they find it. As a result, they are effective in finding solutions to life, even when life has dealt them hard realities that just should not be.
Other people, however, do not face reality so realistically. They refuse to own their lives in this world in which they find themselves. They want a different world one that is fair and just, where people do what they are supposed to do. They want a world where people treat them the way they are supposed to be treated, and where good things happen to good people and had things happen to had people. That is fair, and that is the way it should be.
That is a wonderful wish. That kind of world was God`s desire for us from the beginning. But that is not the world as it is. God came to grips with the fact that sin had messed up the created order, and he offered forgiveness to imperfect people, along with a chance for them to work through the unfairness and injustice to achieve a fulfilling life. But some people never get it; they never come to grips with the fact that the world is no longer perfect. They still want it to be perfect and sit around protesting the fact that it is not. They blame others, sometimes even rightly so, for their situations. It`s not their fault. And while they waste time thinking about how life ought to be, they remain stuck with their problems because they will not deal with reality as it really is.
Effective people are like my second friend. They desire justice and seek it. But when it does not show up, they do not remain stuck. They get active and find the best solution to their situation. They find answers that are not provided by those who are diminishing their lives with unfair burdens. Like God, they look at an imperfect world and deal with it. They don`t get stuck in the life ought to be fair, and I am going to sit here and demand that it is syndrome. They choose the when life is not fair, I will do everything in my power to find an answer to the problem at hand attitude.
One day on our radio show, a woman called in and said that her mother had treated her miserably during the Thanksgiving holiday. The caller had gone back to school and was pursuing her dreams, and her mother had criticized her for wasting time trying to improve herself. My mom was so critical. she said. She just said the meanest things, like, €˜Why are you doing that? You`ll never make a living in that field. You are too old for this. Why don`t you just get a real job and get on with it?` It was horrible. She ruined my whole holiday.
Sensing that this caller was not a child, I said, That`s terrible. By the way, how old are you?
So, is this the same mother you have had all those forty years?
And is this the first time that she has ever been non-supportive or critical?
Why, no! She does this all the time. She is so mean. She always ruins my plans and dreams. She has never supported me.
Hmm. And what was it about this particular holiday that made you think that she was going to magically change and be a different person? I asked, adding gently, Why did you expect that to happen? Who do you think the crazy one is here?
The caller did not like my point, but she got it. Sure, her mother should be a supportive person. In a perfect world, everyone should have a supportive mother. But her mother wasn`t, and everyone doesn`t. So the caller was ruining her life by dealing with it in a life should be as it ought to be manner. Instead of telling herself, My mother is not a supportive person. So I had better come to grips with that and take responsibility for my needs to be supported, she had plunged blindly ahead and acted in accord with the way that she wished the world was. As a result, she was disappointed.
If she had not held on to that fairness requirement, she could get on with life. Her call to me would have been different. I would have heard something like this:
I just had the greatest holiday. After enrolling in school I went to see my mother. As usual, she ridiculed my decision and gave me a hard time over it. In the old days, I always wished for her to be supportive, and when she was not, I was always hurt and deflated. But now, instead of thinking that she should be something she is not, I got my support from friends who were able to give it before I visited my mother. So I didn`t need to look to her for it. Instead, I was able just to be with her and love her as she is. I accepted her for who she is with her limitations and enjoyed her and the visit. As a result, I did not give her the power over my life that she used to have. It was a great holiday.
That, by the way, is an actual conversation I had with a real person who was the kind who takes ownership of her life. As a result, she is able to live and love in the way that God does, accepting people for who they are and reality for what it is. That`s the only way to deal with life effectively.
The big lesson here is this: deal with life as it is. Do not get stuck in protesting reality for what it ought to be. If you give up the demand that life and the people in it be something other than what they are, you will find creative solutions to every difficult situation. And you will be a more loving person.
And, before you get pessimistic that the person you care about can never change, that is not what we are saving. We`ll have more to say later about how you can be an influence for change with people you love. But first, you must take ownership for your own situation, whatever it is. If your difficulty is a non-supportive husband or wife, accept the reality of the problem and take ownership of dealing with it. Then and only then will you be able to find the best solution. If you just remain stuck and complain that he or she ought to he different, and you remain powerless and miserable until that person changes, then you are stuck in a prison. Take back the power. You can be free from whatever situation surrounds you to the degree that you are willing to take responsibility and ownership for it, even if it`s not your fault.
People turn bad relationships around every day. People turn bad backgrounds around every day. People turn their unfair lives around everyday. How do they do it? By putting their arms around reality as it is, owning their situation, and taking responsibility for it. Do that and you`ll be way ahead of the world. And that is what this book is about we want to awaken your power to thrive in spite of less-than ideal situations whether they are bad relationships, bad backgrounds, or bad circumstances, it`s all up to you. Only you can take the first step: you can choose to give up your demand that life be something that it is not and own it for what it is. Accept that reality, and stop protesting it. So, it`s raining. You can get an umbrella and make a nice day out of it, or you can go out and complain about getting wet. It is up to you Give up fair and get a life.
Owning That This Is Not the First Time
Is this the first time that sour mother has not been supportive? 1 asked the caller.
Is this the first time that you have dated someone who has not been able to connect? I asked the single who was six months into a disappointing relationship.
Is this the first time that you have fallen prey to a promise about a great new deal that didn`t pan out? I asked the businessperson who felt duped again.
Is this the first time that sour willpower and commitment have not gotten you the weight loss you expected? I asked the woman who was discouraged about her failure at dieting.
I could go on, but you get the picture. It`s the story of all of us. We have patterns of failure, and they work well. We do not need any new ones, for the old ones work just fine. Think about it. Look back at the failures you`ve experienced in relationships, moods, goals, careers, habits, or whatever. They all tend to follow the same path. Meet the guy, get enamored, have him chase you, adapt to whatever he wants, have a good season, he loses interest, you try to win him back, and then finally he is gone. And then repeat that in the next seven relationships.
Or, experience a strong desire for a certain relationship, have it disappointed, have the argument, get stuck in the conflict, become estranged, come back together and not resolve it, and wait for the next go-round.
There are many examples of these repetitive cycles, but the truth is what it is: we have patterns of failure. They are very predictable. Often when a couple comes to me for counseling, one of them will make an accusatory statement about the other. Okay, stop, I will say. Do you know what your partner is going to say or do in reaction to what you just said? Do you know already where this conversation is going? Invariably the answer is yes. So, that brings up the obvious question: Then why do you do it?
And here is the answer: we slip into patterns of behaving and reacting that remain fixed until we observe them and change them. We put ourselves on autopilot. We abandon conscious control and just repeat the same things over and over again. That is our innate nature, and it won`t change until we work on changing it. You`ve heard it said, the fool repeats his folly, or more graphically, the dog returns to its vomit. (See Proverbs 25:11.) This means that to the degree that we are not seeing out own patterns of behavior and taking responsibility for them, we are going to repeat them.
Ownership is seeing those patterns and taking responsibility for them. If you are continually disappointed by certain repeated situations, then it is time to recognize the unproductive pattern and take ownership. The old adage has some truth to it: Once, shame on you. Twice, shame on me. In other words, anyone can get duped. But once we`ve been duped, we have to take ownership and responsibility for our reactions and expectations to prevent it from happening again.
Sometimes that means not placing ourselves in the same situation again, or at least, not with the same expectations. Think of the caller we met, the daughter with the demeaning mother. Either she could choose not to go visit her mother and not place herself in the same situation, or she could visit her but change her expectation that her mother would be supportive.
At other times, taking ownership means that we understand who we are dealing with. We understand them as they are, not as we wish them to be. We take ownership of the reality before we go about trying to improve it.
Maria had a husband who did not get it. They had been married for five years, and she was constantly hurt and disappointed by his behavior. But when she reacted with criticism, he would invariably react right back, and they would find themselves in a quagmire which always sank her into hopeless despair.
But then she learned about patterns. She could see her pattern of repeatedly expecting him to be different than he was and then suffering again when he wasn`t. Her first reaction was to pull back and think, He is never going to be any different. It`s hope1ess. Given the amount of pain she had endured. I understood. She would have been justified in giving tip. But she was strong enough not to give up and wise enough to look at her pattern for an answer. When she examined the pattern, she realized that the problem with it was not in wanting the situation to be better; it was in the futility of thinking that it would get better each time she and her husband had a confrontation. So she regrouped.
Since Maria`s husband was open to change, although slow at bringing it about, she decided to stop the old pattern and try something different. She would establish a new pattern and simply accept the inevitable fact that he would be slow to get it and unenthusiastic in his response. She would wish and ask for more, but when he blew it she would understand and take in stride the fact that this was going to be part of the picture. Part of the new pattern would he dealing with that reality. She owned her situation and did not let it do her in or destroy her marriage.
Instead, she gave up her old pattern of reacting to his failures arid got in control. From then on, when he became hurtful again she told him that she was going to go hang out with her support group and give him some time to think about his behavior. When he was ready to see it as a problem, she would be glad to talk to him.
Maria`s new pattern allowed her to remain in control of herself instead of allowing his failures to have the power over her that they had had before. As a result, he was left to deal with his failures. By changing her pattern, Maria did two things: First, she kept herself from being as hurt by his failures by opening herself to the reality that existed by open instead of the reality of her wish. She saw him as he was. Second, she took a stance that did not allow his problem to become her problem. By getting above his issue, she became an agent of positive change in their relationship.
Ask yourself this: in the significant areas of life that I care about, what unhelpful patterns am I repeating? When you discover such a pattern, you find an area of responsibility. You are not responsible for the bad things that happen to you, but you are responsible for the patterns you create to response to them. Find a pattern and you find an opportunity for growth, change, and power. If every time I drive by the Golden Arches I turn in and eat five cheeseburgers. I may do well to see a pattern and not drive that route. Understand your patterns and own them. When you do that, you will begin to see alternative choices. If every time you find yourself in situation A you do B and get negative results, you may do well to recognize that this is not just something that is happening to you. You may have some responsibility` in it. And the good news is this: wherever you have responsibility, you have the opportunity for change, choice, power, and a new outcome. If and that is a big if you take responsibility for that pattern.
Recently I rejoiced at a friend`s victory. He called another friend and said, I want you to hold me accountable for my dating life. I see a pattern, and it is not getting me where I want to be. I keep going to women who don`t have the values and character that I want long-term. I get too involved with them, they want me to commit, and I can`t. So I break up and we both get hurt. I want to stop doing that. I want to get in a relationship with a woman who shares my values.
When I heard that, I had hope for my friend for the first time in four years. Finally, he sees the pattern. My guess is that by this time next year, he will be in a relationship with a woman who shares his values.
So find your pattern. We all have them in the areas where we are stuck. The person whose willpower repeatedly fails to keep her from succumbing to the Golden Arches is no different than the one who keeps getting hurt by a critical mother she continually thinks will be different, or the person who thinks the next impulsive scheme is going to work when the ten before did not. See the pattern and you will discover the place to change your life.
The Real Diversion
Why do we blame others or circumstances for what happens to us? There are lots of reasons. We will go into more of them later but one that we want to consider here is diversion. Diversion gets our attention off the fact that we have responsibility. It diverts us from having to do whatever we could to make the situation better. Making the situation better may involve a lot of work, pain, or change on our part. That is a big reason why more people do not do it. It`s easier to divert attention from their responsibility by blaming. It is far easier to say, The economy is bad, and there are no jobs, than to get a degree in another field or to knock on a few hundred business doors. It is far easier to say that one is unhappy because his or her significant other is not very relational than to learn new patterns of relating that could repair the relationship. It is far easier to give in to one more hamburger ad than to attend a few Weight Watchers meetings. Blame is a sort of Comfort food for the soul. It diverts us from the effort of owning responsibility.
The problem is that like any other comfort food, diversion by blaming does not do much to for you in the end. Eat a few gallons of ice cream and you are no healthier than when you began. Indulge in a few gallons of blame and you are no closer to a solution than when you began. Blame is the worst of diversions. Not only does blame divert us from our responsibility, it diverts us from the real issue at hand: what we are losing not taking ownership of the problem. In the end, solving the problem is what matters.
So change your focus. Instead of focusing on what is causing your misery, try something new: focus on your misery. Focus on the result of what you are doing. Focus on what your pattern and your blame are costing you. If you do that, the blame begins to fade into the background as it has no meaning. If you look at the result, then the why is not important. What is important is the what. Why the problem is there ultimately means nothing. Solving the problem means everything. So McDonald`s or some other fast food is the why you are eating. The what is that you are overweight, and solving that problem is the only thing that matters. Blame only diverts us from the real issue, and that is the result we are getting from our pattern of behavior. When we see that, we will be motivated to change the result by doing something different.
Only you can do that. Only you can look at your life and ask yourself if you like the results you are getting. Only you can look at the fruit of your pattern of behavior, take ownership of it, and do something about it, if you keep dating the sort of people whose values disappoint you, only you can own responsibility for your choices and stop blaming the external world for the outcome. If you are not losing the weight you want to lose, only you can take ownership of your weight and choose to change your eating patterns. It you are not getting what you desire out of your relationships, only you can look at that result and do something about it.
Excuses Don`t Change Things
Once when I was doing a dating workshop a woman said, Well, it`s difficult to find dates when you work as much as I do. I`m a career woman, and I am so busy that I just can`t find time to meet new people.
My reply was, So I guess only unemployed women find dates. She balked, but I went on. I told her that while her excuse may have made her feel better, it was not going to change her result. Then I listed about ten things that busy women do to meet new people and find good results. They join services, change their schedules, network better, go to new places, engage in personal growth to find out why they are not attracting the men that are around them, and so on. I had written a book on dating and knew the research exploring how men and women change their dating lives. It happens successfully every day. This woman did not like hearing this list; it destroyed her ability to hide behind her excuses.
There`s one thing that people do not realize about excuses. They are usually true. But my response to that is, So what? Yes, your excuse is real. Now, given that, what are you going to do about it? Your excuses do not change one single thing. It is up to you to do that. Get past the excuses and get on with it.
– It is true that you do not have time to work out. So what? What are you going to do about that?
– It is true that you do not have a supportive church for your emotional issues. So what? What are you doing to do about that?
– It is true that a particular person in your life is not giving you what you deserve. So what? What are you doing to do to deal with that?
– It is true that not one good, single eligible person is showing up at your door. So what? What are you going to do about that?
– It is trite that your particular metabolism allows easy weight gain. So what? What are you going to do about that?
Remember, the parable of the talents the tine with no result had a good excuse. He did not have a lot to begin with, and according to him, his master was a tough sell. But God comes along and says. So what? You should have heed that reality and done something with it.
The good news is this: you ran. You can do something with your reality. Taking ownership and responsibility for your life does not mean that you have to fix it alone. God will be with you and will work miracles. He is a God who answers. He is a God who parts the Red Sea and feeds thousands out of a few fishes and loaves. But he also asks us to own our responsibility to name the animals, to dig our talent out of the ground, and to make difficult relationships work, lie invites us to do that. And if we do, he will do the things that we are unable to do. But he won`t do the things that we can do for ourselves. That is the created order. God will do the God things, and we have to do the people things.
And here is even more good news: there is help even when we can`t do the people things. Even if we can`t say no to a hamburger with our name on it. God will help us develop that ability when we own that problem and begin to deal with it. He does not think we are going to be able to do in things we can`t do. Addicts who admit their powerlessness is the first step know this well. But when we can`t do it, God does ask us to take the responsibility and ownership of the situation and to ask for his help and the help and the help of others.
If you take that first step, things can change. Or you can blame the hamburger. It is up to you.